Klavan On The Culture

Lone Survivor Is Intense — But Read the Book!

In a surprise to liberal media outlets and no one else, the film Lone Survivor is cleaning up at the box office. This is a surprise to media lefties because, as the New York Times put it with near radiant gormlessness, “Moviegoers have stubbornly refused to care about war movies set in Afghanistan.” It apparently never occurred to the Times that stubborn moviegoers just didn’t want to see war movies like Lions for Lambs in which America was falsely made out to be the villain!

But the folks are showing up for this baby, even despite the occasional Pajama Boy critic whining into his cocoa about having to watch American heroes being heroic in the battle against Islamist bad guys. Reality makes their tartan singlets itchy, I guess.

Even PJBs who, like the Times‘ A.O. Scott, made sure to hint in their reviews at their ever-so-nuanced disapproval of patriotism, heroism and fighting bad guys have been forced to admit the movie’s central battle scene is powerful and effective. It’s a well-directed, gripping, intense tribute to the men who keep America safe for the movie critics who complain about them.

The picture, as you no doubt know, is director Peter Berg’s version of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s memoir of a good mission gone bad in Afghanistan. Luttrell and his fellow SEALs were sent out to kill a high-profile Islamist terrorist but were unfortunately spotted by two goatherds and a small boy. The Americans made the merciful but unwise decision to spare the civilians, who proceeded to betray their position to the Taliban. The title tells you what happened.

The performances and the direction here are all top-notch, but I have to say I missed the depth and humanity of the book. I listened to the Luttrell memoir in audiobook form and embarrassed myself with emotion when I reached the final pages during a cross country plane flight. Luttrell and co-author Patrick Robinson’s descriptions of training, SEAL brotherhood, and the dangerous stupidity of the leftist press all helped to create rich three-dimensional portraits of the people who went out into the field that day and the conditions under which they were forced to serve. Berg can only accomplish some of that through the film’s action-packed visuals. And the movie’s final firefight — not real but imaginary — is a mistake, a poor substitute for the true story of the heroic Afghan villagers who gave Luttrell a hand at risk of their lives. Berg should have trusted the real story here.

That said, it’s a good, exciting, visceral war movie with its heart in the right place, and if it gets people to read the wonderful book all the better.

As a postscript, I really admired Mark Wahlberg’s contribution to the picture. The guy is a very good action star and I always enjoy watching him, but here he bravely surrounds himself with some of the best young actors in the business (including the spectacular Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch), while playing a part that doesn’t even really stand out until later on. It’s rare, unselfish behavior from a star-slash-executive-producer. It allows the contributions of the wonderful cast to shine and gives the picture a sense of realism and perspective it wouldn’t have had if Wahlberg had insisted on the usual star turn. Nice going him.

Related: Lone Survivor Shocks Hollywood, Becomes the First Movie Hit of 2014